A good year for breast cancer detection and treatment

September 06, 2015

Breast cancer treatment

The results of several clinical trials established the value of two types of breast cancer drugs in preventing breast cancer recurrence, significantly improving disease-free survival rates.

In two large clinical trials, trastuzumab (Herceptin), which has been available for women with advanced breast cancer, was found to help women with early-stage HER-2 positive breast cancer -- an aggressive form of the disease that tends to respond poorly to hormone treatment. Women with early-stage HER-2 positive breast cancer who received Herceptin in combination with standard chemotherapy treatment had a 52 percent decrease in breast cancer recurrence when compared with women receiving chemotherapy alone.

Other studies published this year showed aromatase inhibitors (AIs) are an effective hormone treatment for postmenopausal women with hormone-positive early-stage breast cancer.

That??s significant because for at least two decades, the drug tamoxifen has been the gold standard add-on therapy used after initial treatment. Recent clinical trials have shown that AIs, which block an enzyme responsible for producing small amounts of estrogen in postmenopausal women, often show better disease-free survival rates than does tamoxifen alone or when used after several years of tamoxifen or as a first-line therapy for early-stage breast cancer.

Breast cancer detection

Several recent studies have shown that MRI ??-- which uses magnetic energy and intravenous material to create detailed images of the breast -- is significantly more sensitive than mammography in detecting breast cancers in high-risk women.

Researchers of a recent study concluded that combining MRI with mammography would pick up twice as many breast cancers in women at high risk. This advance is especially important for women with mutations on genes BRCA1 or BRCA2. They are typically at greater risk of developing breast cancer in their younger years, when dense breast tissue can make mammography X-rays difficult to interpret.


Many believe the results of using aromatase inhibitors over tamoxifen, in treating early invasive breast cancer, will mean many more lives could be saved.

However, some experts in the UK believe the approval process there needs to be sped up to a matter of days, as the NHS drug watchdog, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), will not decide whether the drug should be made widely available until autumn next year.

This has led to concern that cancer patients in some areas are being denied access to the newest drugs because of the financial limitations of NHS hospital trusts, which has prompted some patients to take legal action in order to make their health authority pay for the treatment.

The drug already has approval in Scotland for post-menopausal patients but only after they have been treated with tamoxifen.

The study is published in the New England Journal of Medicine.